On August 5, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) kicks off Exchange Day. This nationwide event celebrates the power of international exchange–bringing together alumni and participants of all exchange programs to share cultures, customs, and to give back to their host communities. This year, ECA decided to expand the celebration to raise awareness of all international exchange programs and showcase their multiplier effect on communities around the globe.
Exchange Day specifically focuses on community volunteerism and the rewards individuals receive when they volunteer. One participant who exemplifies these values is Mr. Adrian Sealey, an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumnus from Trinidad and Tobago, who works to build community resilience. In 2017, Sealey participated in an IVLP that brought community leaders from across the world together to share best practices and learn municipal-level approaches to countering violent extremism and radicalization efforts.
With the support of the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles, a community-based member in the Global Ties U.S. network, Sealey’s IVLP group connected with leaders in Anaheim, California including the mayor’s office. Through their partnership, he learned about the city’s “Make Kindness Contagious” initiative, which highlights “daily acts of kindness” and fosters community engagement and volunteerism to decrease conflict.
Inspired by Anaheim’s efforts to build a culture of kindness, Sealey returned to Trinidad and Tobago and began engaging young men in the neighborhood of Chaguanas, encouraging them to volunteer in their neighborhoods. Sealey co-founded Ryu Dan Dojo and Youth Empowerment Centre, a community engagement center for at-risk youth. The Ryu Dan Dojo, situated between the two rival gangs of Rasta City and Unruly ISIS, seeks to combat violent extremism in youth through martial arts and community engagement. Through the centre, Sealey and fellow IVLP alumna Sensei Marva John Logan launched the “Be Good, Do Good, Feel Good” Campaign to encourage volunteerism and empower at-risk youth as they improve their own communities.
The campaign took youth into the community to organize clothing drives, help commuters, supply food to marginalized populations, and visit children in a local healthcare institution. Sealey’s organization also hosted a peace walk entitled “Unity in the Community - Make Kindness Contagious.” Sealey implemented these campaigns through close collaboration with the mayor’s office in Anaheim. During his exchange program, Sealey made a lasting connection with Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait that has supported his community work 4,000 miles away.
Utilizing lessons learned during his IVLP, Sealey has also brought together disparate parts of his community to help with the initiative. Local faith-based groups, local government officials and non-governmental organizations, and the U.S. Embassy are all providing time and resources for the initiative.
In the end, both the Anaheim and Chaguanas communities receive long-term benefit from a person-to-person exchange. Sealey’s hard work and dedication to his community exemplifies volunteerism and the mission of Exchange Day. Kindness is a universal language in any culture that can provide rewarding experiences for volunteers, in this case, at-risk youth. Kindness helps them develop their own creativity, passion, and at the same time strengthen their sense of community and increase their social networks.
The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs works to build friendly, peaceful relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through exchanges and private/public partnerships. The IVLP is the U.S. Department of State’s premier exchange program, engaging current and emerging foreign leaders in firsthand experience and cultivating lasting relationships with their American counterparts.
About the Author: Zaira Mughal is an intern in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.